Chess Match: Game 49

Breaking down a key moment in Wednesday’s 6-5 loss to the Angels…

The situation: The Blue Jays are tied with the Angels, 5-5, heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. Left-hander Scott Downs has already logged one inning and Angels catcher Mike Napoli is due up first to open the ninth.

The decision: Manager Cito Gaston sticks with Downs.

The outcome: Napoli leads off with a double and advances to third on a groundout from Maicer Izturis. Downs issues consecutive walks to set up a force at any base. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez makes a spectacular play on a groundout, retiring the inning’s second out at the plate. Bobb Abreu delivers game-winning hit to left field.

The analysis: This was a case of Gaston sticking with the hot hand. He had already used relievers Rommie Lewis, Shawn Camp and Jason Frasor earlier in this game. With right-hander Josh Roenicke logging more than one inning on Tuesday, Kevin Gregg and Casey Janssen were right-handed relief options.

If the game goes extra innings, Gaston would need someone like Janssen to eat up some frames and he had not worked in the last couple games. Gregg is the closer, but he had posted a 9.95 ERA over his last seven games dating back to May 7. Downs, on the other hand, had a 0.60 ERA over his last 14 games dating back to April 26.

Downs had previously worked more than one inning in four games this season, allowing a run in just one of those outings. Napoli had just one career at-bat against Downs as well, so not much of a sample size. That said, Napoli entered the game hitting .382 vs. lefties on the year and .290 for his career.

The intentional walks made complete sense. With just one out and the winning run standing on third base, the Jays needed to increase the probability of getting a double play (they almost got one, too). The second walk came against Erick Aybar, who is a threat to pull off a squeeze bunt.

The comments:

Downsy is one of those few guys that you want out there when that time comes.” –Center fielder Vernon Wells

He’s one of my best guys out there.” –Manager Cito Gaston, asked why he went with Downs in the ninth inning

You can certainly pitch to Aybar, but he’s going to bunt. He’ll squeeze him in in two seconds. You can go up there and pitch out a couple times, but he’s still going to squeeze him in. That was about the only play we had. You never know with Mike [Scioscia]. Next time, he might make Kendrick squeeze him in. You take that chance in that situation. You’ve got a play at the plate anyway.” –Gaston, on the intentional walks

My verdict: It is easy to look at Napoli’s track record against lefties and quickly criticize Gaston for using Downs to begin the ninth inning. That said, Gregg’s outings have been shaky of late and Downs had been solid for the entire month. Knowing that a clean inning takes the game into extras, I would have stuck with Downs in that situation, too.

~JB

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